I attended the launch of the improved OrCam MyEye, a device for the visually impaired

This post was originally published on Sebastien’s blog, L’Association SJKB

On October 3rd of this year, I attended an event organized by OrCam, a company founded by Amnon Shashua and Ziv Aviram. OrCam is an Israeli start-up, with growing success, having benefited from a recent fundraising of $56 million, to work on the development of a device designed to “give back” some artificial vision to people suffering from blindness.

I was invited that day to the launch of the improved version of their famous device: the OrCam MyEye. So in the early morning, I went to the place on the invitation – the restaurant Dans le Noir – for a rather special breakfast.

I already knew that the OrCam MyEye is a device created to improve the daily lives of people with visual disabilities, because my optician for low vision convinced me to try the first version. So I knew about it and was impressed by its potential.

I arrived with my friend Véronique, and we were able to meet a group of people interested in disability in general (bloggers, journalists) and in visual disability in particular (opticians, associations, members of OrCam, Essilor and the General Manager of a spa and restaurant chain employing many visually impaired people).

The breakfast in total darkness was a rediscovery too, because I had experienced it four years earlier, in this same room. But this time it was an opportunity to raise awareness of visual impairment, while making friends with the diverse range of guests in a friendly atmosphere.

Then, to round off this fun and very timely event, we went to another room for some actual product demos. And I must say that after this hands-on experience, I was left with an enthusiastic opinion. This product is very interesting and innovative, and its functions are useful. It should be known that the OrCam MyEye received a gold trophy in 2016 at the SILMO international trade fair for opticians and eye wear professionals.

Light and discreet, the OrCam MyEye is a wearable, artificial vision device, designed for visually impaired or blind people. The information is captured by a miniature camera attached to the right arm of glasses frames and transmitted through a miniature speaker. It is controlled, without an Internet connection, through a small base unit consisting of a battery and a computer equipped with an artificial intelligence program that is capable of learning. Using the device is very intuitive. You just follow the instructions of the audio voice that describes the captured images: objects and faces (pre-recorded), tickets, reading text; all those things that are impossible when one is blind or difficult when you have visual impairment.

Indeed, we visually impaired people lose a lot of autonomy in a world not at all adapted to our specific needs. New technologies do more than just give us hope. Certain technologies such as optogenetics and gene therapy, or some advanced micro-technologies, such as retinal implants, stop the progression of the disease, or are able to return some of the lost sight. To complement this, other technologies, such as OrCam MyEye, are adaptive solutions. They allow us to improve our daily lives and recover some of this lost autonomy. More than that, they also allow us to start winning back our independence, whether in work or social life, and find a new balance. Or, we can simply reconnect with the pleasure of reading.

It is an issue of generally reclaiming the world around us, to interact with it and to feel active.

I thank OrCam for having addressed this problem and developed a practical solution. It’s bringing us closer and closer to freedom.